Just as We Suspected: Florida Saved Nothing by Drug Testing Welfare Applicants

Last year Florida became the first state to pass and fully implement a bill mandating suspicionless drug testing of all applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The law mandated that all applicants pay for the cost of the drug test themselves, and that they be reimbursed if their test came back negative. The law was in effect for a mere four months before the ACLU of Florida filed a lawsuit and a federal court blocked the law, saying it was unconstitutional.

Today the New York Times released the most comprehensive data yet on how the law fared during the short period of time it was in effect. We already knew that the law was a failure; what we didn't know was just how much of a failure it was.

In the four months that Florida's law was in place, the state drug tested 4,086 TANF applicants. A mere 108 individuals tested positive. To put it another way, only 2.6 percent of applicants tested positive for illegal drugs — a rate more than three times lower than the 8.13 percent of all Floridians, age 12 and up, estimated by the federal government to use illegaldrugs. Now might be a good time to remind folks that in the debate over the bill, Gov. Rick Scott argued that this law was necessary because, he said, welfare recipients used drugs at a higher rate than the general population.

The utter absurdity of this law is magnified when you realize how much it cost the state of Florida to run this program. The data released today shows that Florida spent $118,140 reimbursing the overwhelming number of Florida TANF applicants — 3,938 to be exact — who tested negative for drugs. That is far more than any money saved by the program, at a net cost to the State of over $45,000. And that's only part of the cost to the state to run this program. There are also the administrative costs, staff costs, and, of course, the litigation costs. Furthermore, the testing program didn't deter individuals from applying for help — an internal document about TANF caseloads revealed that, at least from July through September, the policy did not lead to fewer cases.

Despite the complete failure of this program to unearth anything other than the fact that there is no overwhelming drug problem amongst welfare applicants, the state of Florida continues to defend this law. And unfortunately, other states have followed Florida's ill-informed lead. Over 25 states introduced welfare drug testing legislation this year. You'd think that the court rulings and high costs might have logically stopped these bills, but they have not. In fact, just this Monday, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill into law that is very similar to Florida's, mandating all TANF applicants in Georgia be drug tested before being eligible to receive benefits.

As long as states keep fighting to pass and keep these unconstitutional and costly programs in place, the ACLU will be there to keep fighting back.

(Originally posted on Huffington Post.)

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post stated that TANF recipients were reimbursed for the cost of the drug test if the result was positive. That was incorrect. They are reimbursed if the result is negative. Thanks to @smirish for pointing this out on Twitter!

Learn more about drug testing: Sign up for breaking news alerts, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

View comments (99)
Read the Terms of Use


"But some of those people are doing something WRONG and they MUST be punished!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Punishment and control has never worked effectively and it never will. Commenter #16, you really don't understand America, and what it's supposed to be, so just GTFO.


@15. Anonymous

You're ridiculous. Florida has proven that it costs more to catch the drug users than it does to not test anyone. So MORE of your tax dollars are wasted by doing the testing. But that's okay with you, as long as the "bad" people who are "mooching" are caught. That's idiotic. You're an embarrassment to thinking tax payers. GTFO.


@15. Anonymous

Did you read the part about 2.6% of applicants using vs. 8% using statewide? Can't you see that welfare applicants are being unfairly targeted and inaccurately demonized? One might even say that welfare applicants as a class ought to be praised for using at a rate less than the statewide average.


WOW it is so surprising there are people who really think the people on welfare are not buying drugs, etc.. Come on!! You are just sticking your head in the sand. The rich are the ones using drugs? You really must be kidding me!! At least if they are, they made that money themselves. My taxes did not pay for their drugs..etc...The poor folks around here do buy drugs. Welfare is temporary!! Give me a freaking break. It is some people's full time job to get money from the government--get the live-in out, make sure we get the kids tested to see if we can draw a check on them for life, work for cash under the table, have another kid or two, etc.. Some feel...."And I deserve this!! Give me gimme gimme." How about a system of "welfare for one year" off for 2...so people must get a job. If you have to get on welfare again, a maximum of two years then you can't get back on it for another 4 years. Etc...Drug testing is almost like "if you are b^%$k you can get a college degree free--your doctorate, even" ........"if you are W%^&e you can pay".......... "If you work for a business, you can be drug tested" ....BUT..... "If you get free money from the government that you did not work for, drug testing is illegal".........If a w&^%$ guy shoots a B*&^^% guy it was a hate crime. They are racist. If a B&^%$ guy shoots a W&^%$# guy, that is the "bad way the world is". That is how "THEY" are......


Know there is more than 4,000 people on welfare in Florida


108 out of 4000 failed the test, if welfare gave 30000 a year to each person (that's living in poverty) then the gov't just saved 3.24 million dollars and compared to the 118000 that they had to pay for the tests, that seems like a good thing to me.


I think if someone is living off the money I pay into taxes. I should have a right to know if they and on drugs.


The ACLU should be outlawed.


#28- Your right, the ACLU should be outlawed.


i work for an airline and iam drug tested cause the faa says i have to,goverment, truck drivers are drug tested cause the goverment says so. think about that. this is the feds mandating this


Stay Informed